Posts tagged ‘Business’

digital asset management

Talent is an asset
You’ve got to understand that
Talent is an asset
And little Albert has it
Talent is an asset
And Albert surely has it

In my wanderings across the media landscape I have encountered, “Digital Asset Management”, “Media Asset Management”, “Content Management”, “Asset Management” etc. All terms which each of you have similarly faced. But, why so many terms for the inflection from tape to digital?

I believe the confusion arises out of workflow, product functionality and the need for vendor differentiation. Obfuscation is a remarkable sales tool, and perhaps this taxonomic confusion exemplifies the case of “those who cannot do – sell.”

On a much kinder note, perhaps the confusion is a natural response to a nascent technology, one born out of digital abstraction of a physical entity. You see, when you can touch something, as a human, your perception is that it has some innate value. When you cannot touch it, the value is diminished. Unless we actually have equity in the content, we lose the connection between perceived financial value and the invisible bits which ultimately express the value. In fact, we ascribe value to the infrastructure which enables those bits to be expressed i.e. network, PC, iPod, Plasma TV, STB etc. My theory for why even seemingly upstanding citizens engage in dubious ‘pirate’ activities. I also encountered this mindset in China in the mid 90’s when the value of a CD was in the medium i.e. the plastic, more so that what was on it. Similarly when couriering software and data mag-tapes across continents, customs officials always wanted to know the value of the tapes, not really understanding the value of their contents.

For the record, I gravitate to the term digital asset management. The core of understanding lies in understanding Assets themselves. First a little definition.

Assets have three essential characteristics:

  • The probable present benefit involves a capacity, singly or in combination with other assets, in the case of profit oriented enterprises, to contribute directly or indirectly to future net cash flows, and, in the case of not-for-profit organizations, to provide services;
  • The entity can control access to the benefit;
  • The transaction or event giving rise to the entity’s right to, or control of, the benefit has already occurred.

In normal speak, this is an ability to

  • make money or provide services
  • maintain control or access
  • leverage transactions

This seems intuitively complete for our understanding of the things we need to do to digital content regardless of type. Yet how many digital asset management systems have financial interfaces? Furthermore, how many effectively enable their content with the aforementioned characteristics? How many are just plain digital ‘libraries’ or ‘content management’ repositories?

In the financial accounting sense of the term, it is not necessary to be able to legally enforce the asset’s benefit for qualifying a resource as being an asset, provided the entity can control its use by other means.

This raises another interesting encounter with a recent customer. As a very large content creator, they were not so much interested in protecting their content with DRM as their main customers were Service Providers like broadcasters, cable companies and telcos. They distributed their content via the web, in most cases with FTP, and fully expected their business partner to abide by contractual usage provisions. In fact, if the content were ‘over-utilized’, then in a sense, that is fine by my customer – more exposure. However, their prime concern was ‘editing’ of the content, i.e. changing the creative content, or the storyline, or the brand. As long as the content was edited in compliance with regulations that was OK, but if it was edited to allow more commercial content, then that was not OK.

By extension, media asset management expands my definition of digital asset management, to include the tracking of physical copies of the content i.e. tapes, CDs, manuscripts etc. Hence the usage of the word media, implying all manifestations of content instantiation.

So, when you use the phrase ‘asset’, it is important to understand that the digital content has a ‘value’, and that this value needs to be wrapped with rights to ensure that the maximum equity is extracted for the minimum liability, financial or otherwise.  Failure to do so, in my mind implies that you are only addressing one part of the business, the technical operations.

Without an appreciation of the valuation of their digital inventory, how is a business ever going to evolve to a new digital business model?

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

February 18, 2010 at 1:00 am 2 comments

the user

No praise or crowd
No sound of thunder
No hero’s tale
No sign or wonder
With all I’ve known
And left behind
I find my place
In serving You

Remember the IT user? Those people who the IT department initially served? Those subject matter experts within the business. Those people who usually know best what is needed to make their daily job, business functions and therefore, by extension, the business?

Whatever happened to them? Does anyone actually listen to them anymore?

Remember the constant tussle between in-house development and packaged software? I have no intention of re-litigating that debate, but I do think, that of late, the industry has increasingly paid more attention to ‘new trends’ and ‘new products’ than on the fundamentals.

We’ve gone top down. Big picture will ultimately solve the business problems? The focus is now on the company and shareholders, rather than the stakeholders whose knowledge and effort is the driving engine of the company. Is not a balanced approach far more sensible?

This is dangerously similar to the transformation of the accounting profession. Their constant focus on moving up the corporate food chain and becoming Financial Advisors, instead of Accountants. On telling the business how to grow beans, instead of counting the beans of the business.

And so it is with IT professionals. As we look across the business landscape with our ‘Technology Focus’ we are starting to move beyond advising the CEO how to leverage technology for better business, but have promoted the notion that good technology = good business. This might be true in a technology-centric business like media, or the technology business itself, but not in general.

The ‘Financial Advisors’ ran wild with growing beans and precipitated the global economic disaster… will our love affair with all things technical, promoting technology above business interests result in tears? I think it is time to get back to serving the business…

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

PS. How many IT shops out there are cost-centers vs the profit centers to which you would seem to aspire?

February 12, 2010 at 6:58 am Leave a comment

changing business systems

There’s something about the way that
You say the words that you’ve rehearsed, now
I think I should explain
Things aren’t going to change

At some point in your professional career, whether you are on the business or operational side of a media company, you will face a system changeover. It’s a tough process.

Media organizations, like any business, change their business systems for many reasons. However, the fundamental reason really is to provide a framework for either reducing costs or enhancing revenues. Given that the cost of introducing a new system is itself quite significant, let’s explore revenue enhancement.

After going ‘live’, systems & organizations progress through several stages. The course taken reflects:

  • Properties and operations of the old system
  • Expectations of new system deliverables
  • Dynamics associated with moving the organization through the conversion project
  • Ongoing developments

In my experience, three broad transition phases exist. The degree of overlap and time spent in each phase is also a function of the above factors. Each phase is discussed separately along with its attributes, implications and suggested organizational actions.

Phase 1 – Revenue Protection

This is typically called “Fine Tuning”, “Shakedown”, “Bedding In” etc.

It typically lasts for 2-4 weeks immediately after the live date. It may span across the live-date therefore last longer, depending upon the state of the old system, and if the client has desired a parallel run or pilot etc.

In this phase you need to pay particular attention to:

  • Refine processes & procedures
  • Ensure consistent message within company and with clients
  • Firm up Business Rules
  • Establish baseline measurements

Phase 2 – Inventory Control

This should really be considered as ”Taking Control of the Business” with the new system and it lasts for about 6-9 months after the system has settled down. This is a learning stage, one of the organization becoming ‘familiar’ with the new system and its operations. It can start during the regime of the old system but typically users will not accept the new workflow and operations until the comfort zone of the old system has disappeared.

To transition through this phase as quickly as possible, focus upon:

  • Education & PR campaign
  • Planning/budgeting – strategy for next sales/marketing period
  • Develop products, rates, packages etc.
  • Communicate the business rules, set client expectations, regain control of inventory

Phase 3 – Revenue Enhancement

The whole point of changing systems is to “Get Value from the System” you have just installed. This is an ongoing process, typically starting after about 6-9 months of operations. By this stage, the new system has become the ‘modus operandi’ of the organization and there is enough data to provide comparisons and historical perspectives. Users look for new ways to solve business problems and consult the system as a primary point of reference.

At this stage the business should be able to leverage the new system for:

  • Planning/budgeting – strategy for next sales/marketing period
  • Develop products, rates, packages etc.
  • Adjust rates, look to demand/yield management
  • Utilize information to create selling opportunities, tie to programming
  • Build ‘value’ for the customer

It is critical that clients pass through Phase –1 Revenue Protection as quickly as possible. Being stuck in this phase will impact client confidence and hence their willingness to realize the promise of the newly implemented system.

It is important to realize that these broad phases cannot be skipped. Whilst their distinction and characteristics will vary by site and business model, and transition from one phase to the next may not be concise, it is essential to recognize the actions required to make sure that the organization evolves to the last phase.

Ultimately, the business controls the length of  each phase. Some organizations never evolve into the final stage and may be quite content with ‘Inventory Control’. In all cases, it is the implementation team’s responsibility to recognize what is occurring and to evolve the organization’s operations to ensure the maximum return on investment.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

January 28, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

what’s in a meme?

I’ve lived long enough to have learned
The closer you get to the fire the more you get burned
But that won’t happen to us
‘Cause it’s always been a matter of trust

Those of you trend-watchers that have been following CES and the tech landscape will have undoubtedly encountered 2010 as year of the e-reader. Equally, many of you will no doubt have stumbled across the many rumors swirling around the January 26th date – widely believed to be the launch date of the currently non-existent Apple tablet, or what has been dubbed the iSlate.

At CES we saw a wide range of electronic readers, from the palm sized Dell, to the Document sized Que, or the in between HP Slate as demoed by Steve Ballmer at the keynote.

Everybody is ‘slating’.

What I find most incredible about this, is that the rumors of the Apple Tablet have found substance in a diverse group of companies endorsing the ‘slate’ meme and investing R&D in delivering a tablet. Stumbling over themselves in order to beat Apple to the punch, assuming that Apple is indeed going to release a ‘slate’.

Are we seeing a whole segment being born out of a previously failed vision and accelerated into existence by an Apple dream?  I submit that, of all the major technology companies, Apple has earned the trust of consumers, investors and pundits alike. They are associated with disruptive innovation, and they are associated with game changing devices as exemplified by the iPod and iPhone. They were not the first MP3 player, and they were not the first smartphone, but they disrupted both segments. It is only reasonable to expect that a tablet launched by Apple will have the same, or similar, degree of success. Even if it doesn’t, Apple  will be forgiven, as any attempt will still likely be better than the unimaginative devices already shown (and largely forgotten) at CES.

If imitation be the most sincere form of flattery, then imitation of a mirage in advance of a possible product launch is indeed the greatest tribute the industry can pay to Apple. We are trusting this company to manifest our expectations and to surprise us.

Therefore, Apple’s greatest asset is it’s trust.

So, if we get an Apple tablet on the 26th, its success will be in no small part due to the low bar that has been set by Apple’s peers. Innovation and imagination is hard in itself – making it mainstream is extremely difficult. I hope Apple hits this out of the park – this is a form-factor that I’d appreciate, and I know that they’ll get the UI done right.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

BTW I am a proud owner of a still working, and oft used Newton MP2000 and I have forgiven Jobs for killing the Newton.

January 14, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

newspaper apocalypse

Monday morning’s paper told me the world is gonna end
I don’t need time to gather up my friends cause I haven’t any
Things I read the things I hear, it all seems so incredible
You’d think by now I’d learn my lesson

If you read the press, online or print, you already believe that newspaper and print publishing is all but dead. Is this industry self-fulfilling itself into oblivion?

According to the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers in its annual world press trends update, at no time in the foreseeable future will digital advertising revenues replace those lost to print, making the search for new business models, including paid-for online access for news, a pressing concern for the news publishing industry.

So where is the money, that was originally spent on print, now going?

The circulation drop in Europe, for example, is less than 3% over five years. In fact, according to Timothy Balding, co-CEO of WAN-IFRA, “The survey showed that newspaper circulation grew, on a global scale, by 1.3% in 2008, the last full year for which data exists, and almost 9% over five years. The data shows consistent newspaper growth in Africa, Asia and South America, a long-term slowdown in the US and European markets. Over five years, according to our survey, newspaper circulation increased in 100 of the 182 nations for which we have reliable data.” And, “…newspaper companies in the ‘old’ markets have embraced digital platforms and new forms of print publishing and, in doing so, have actually grown their audience reach and revenues, even while their print circulations have come under pressure,” Mr Balding observed.

So where is the money, that was originally spent on print, now going?

Some of the highlights from the update:

  • Globally, 1.9 billion people choose to read a newspaper every day, or 34% of the world population, while 24% use the internet.
  • The biggest newspaper market in the world is India, with 107 million daily sales. India, China and Japan account for more than 60% of the world’s newspaper sales, with the USA taking 14%.
  • In terms of sales per 1,000 adult population, Japan leads the world with 612, followed by Norway with 576, and Finland with 482. In terms of reach, 91% of Japanese continue to read a newspaper daily, remarkable in such a technologically advanced and wired society.
  • Advertising revenues fell an estimated 20% in North America, 19% in eastern Europe, 16% in western Europe, and 11% in the Asia-Pacific in 2009, according to PwC.
  • The US market has been hardest hit, with advertising revenues in the third quarter of 2009 falling nearly 29% in print and nearly 17% on digital platforms over the same quarter in 2008. But revenue declines mirror declines in other industries. Take a look at this map which charts US press layoffs in 2009.

So where is the money, that was originally spent on print, now going?

Why has the US been hardest hit? Why the difference? Have we over-embraced digital gadgetry while the rest of the world still believes that newspaper is the best medium for wrapping physical content? Or, is it simply that internationally, content is not re-purposed to the degree that it is in these newer economies?

I think it is the latter. One of the promises of digital content was the dream of re-purposing. Of re-using and re-monetizing already created content, about making more money. If I have a selection of news feeds, then do I need as many journalists? But if those news feeds are also aggregated by other sources, websites and search engines, then how competitive is my print version? If news generation is trustworthy, sourced and verified, and adds value to a reader’s daily experience of life, then it has value, and it will be compensated. If that information is ‘commonplace’ and can be sourced anywhere, then why would a reader pay?

I think that’s what the US newspaper industry has forgotten. They have come under the spell of economic rationalists, and have handed their golden goose over to the bean counters who obey only the Golden Rule*. And those bean counters are now trying their hand at growing the beans instead of counting them…

Find your readers, listen to them, create relevant content and remember that not everybody has e-ink yet.

There is a place for incisive relevant analysis… I believe. Or, perhaps as a society gets more affluent it necessarily evolves into a faster paced era of 30s news bites, headlines and tweets. Perhaps understanding detail is too much work, work which affluence abhors. Maybe we’re just glimpsing humanity’s new gestalt and this trend is simply reflecting emerging cultural expectations and communications patterns.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

*The Golden Rule in accounting speak is “He who controls the gold, makes the rules”.

December 17, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

computing utilities cometh

It’s quick. It’s clean. It’s pure.
It could change your life, rest assured.
It’s the 21st century cure,
And it’s my job to steal and rob GRAVES!

Computing and IT is entering a new phase. Think of it as the industrialization of information processing. The glory of having the fastest chip, or the fastest router, or the fastest drive, in fact any fastest computing component is quickly becoming Pyrrhic in nature. It’s all about the computing ecosystem.

Some call it cloud computing, others call it scalability – in fact it is something very different. It is the computing utility. Think of it this way…

When technology companies created systems or solutions, they were focused upon a very horizontal marketplace i.e. all things to the most people, or a vertical i.e. specialized systems for specific applications. But when you think beyond systems and focus on absolute efficiencies of the individual components, and then configure those components to interact as an eco-system, rather than just a system… well, it’s like designing communities instead of architecting houses. Heat, power, traffic, serviceability, security etc. all take on different meanings. It is more than just how powerful an individual component performs.

And so it is with the new data centers. Reliability is not about five 9’s – it is about 100% up-time. It demands new engineering approaches. It is about questioning everything – even down to whether an LED is essential on a device, whether the rack is designed for maximum airflow, whether the air-conditioning leverages real thermodynamic principles, whether power is properly conditioned, whether the cost per computing unit is the lowest and most economical so that your users can build viable business models.

These new data centers are not only providing the compute utilities of the future, they are inventing new technologies, IT components and processes. Most importantly, they eat their own dog-food instead of extolling the virtues of their design with clever marketing paradigms as do technology purveyors.  They are their own reference. They can provide real performance and reliability metrics, and many are making their approaches truly ‘open’ by showing you how to do it. This is a very disruptive trend, because if these companies start doing it themselves, because the traditional companies cannot solve these engineering problems, then they will become the technology companies of the future… much like power utilities. At some point, what will be the incentive to compete and innovate? For an even lower cost per compute cycle…?

Edison may have been a visionary, but it was Tesla that pioneered the concept of utility electricity. Edison wanted everyone to buy their own generator, and keep buying services, wiring and light bulbs… from Edison.

I think we’ve reached a new tipping point in IT.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

December 10, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

eyeballs

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my US readers.

Look into the eyeball my friend
Precious man can’t you understand
Look into the eyeball
Tell me what can you see
What can’t you see
You keep it going on
You keep it going on

It’s all about eyeballs. But not in the way we think.

We have become accustomed to thinking in advertising that more eyeballs equates to more money. That for any given CPM, more ‘M’ = more $. That was, and is true for broadcasting. One could extrapolate the same thinking to the evolving unicast world, and that would be a reasonable assumption except that it doesn’t work that way.

But there is one other really big thing. Distribution costs.

  • RF transmission –  Once you have the transmitter, licenses, business infrastructure in place, the cost of distribution is essentially fixed.
  • Print – Production costs are fixed, as may well be distribution costs for certain types, but essentially, more subscribers = more paper & ink and more delivery/postage. Therefore the cost of distribution is baseline plus cost per subscriber per content delivery instance.
  • Cable & Satellite – Fixed base cost (satellite & cables), but then a smaller cost per subscriber to get the Set Top Box and connection established. Not a recurring charge.
  • Web Pages – Fixed cost per quantum of users for servers and infrastructure, after that the bandwidth paid by the subscriber.
  • Web/Mobile Video – As per web pages, except when they all have the audacity to get ‘what they want, when they want it, where they want it’ and then you have to unicast-stream the bandwidth intense content. At that point, your cost per subscriber goes way up.

So. Is having lots of eyeballs really more important than having the right eyeballs? Depends upon who you are. As a broadcaster, it just gets cheaper and generally the advertising becomes proportionately more lucrative. If you cannot attract the right ‘CPMs’ (and who does?*) you lose huge economies of scale in a unicast world, and the costs of providing the service far outweighs the advertising revenue that those eyeballs generate. What’s more, not all traffic is equal. For example, surfers who arrive via search are predominantly “one-and-done” visitors, not necessarily the reliable well defined demographic that most content owners seek.

Perhaps Murdoch is right in moving away from Google and leveraging Bing instead. This is akin to moving out of the expensive shopping mall rental when you have a known brand… the theory being that shoppers will follow, they are qualified buyers and you get to keep more of your own money.

“What’s the point of having someone come [to us] occasionally who likes a headline they see in Google?” Mr. Murdoch asked in his recent Sky News interview. “Sure we go out and say ‘We’ve got so many millions of visitors, you had better advertise’ and so on. The fact is, there’s not enough advertising in the world to go around to make all the websites profitable.”

Unique IP distribution is expensive.

Be careful of eyeballs. Yes you need them to validate viability, but too many eyes watching your every move may be bad for business.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

*Ad networks incrementally deliver pennies for every thousand more visitors that publishers attract. Most ad networks deliver between 16 cents and $1 for a thousand and have large unsold inventories.

November 26, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

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